Epilepsy: What Is It?

Epilepsy (pronounced EH-puh-lep-see) is a neurological disorder that results in seizures. However, having a seizure does not inevitably indicate epilepsy; in fact, many people who have one seizure never have another. However, epilepsy is diagnosed when a person continues to have seizures for no apparent reason.

Many people get epilepsy during their childhood or adolescence. Others become afflicted later in life. For some persons with epilepsy (particularly children), seizures may become less frequent or cease entirely with time.

What Types of Epilepsy Are There?

The type of epilepsy that an individual has is determined by the type of seizure. A seizure can take the following forms:

  • A widespread seizure that affects both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously
  • A focal seizure that affects only one side but has the potential to spread to the opposite side (a secondary generalized seizure)

Electrical abnormalities occur simultaneously across the brain during a generalized seizure. These include absence seizures, tonic-clonic seizures, and myoclonic epilepsies.

Seizures that are focal (or partial) in nature begin in a specific area of the brain. Electrical abnormalities may then spread to other areas of the brain or may remain in one location throughout the seizure.

Partial seizures can be simple (in which the individual does not lose consciousness) or complex (where a person loses consciousness). A finger or multiple fingers, a hand or arm, or a leg or foot may twitch. Certain face muscles may twitch. During a seizure, speech may become slurred, unclear, or strange. The individual’s vision may be briefly impaired. They may experience tingling on one side of the body. It is entirely dependent on the location of the aberrant electrical activity in the brain.

What Is the Cause of Epilepsy?

Frequently, there is no obvious reason for someone to have epilepsy. However, several factors can increase a person’s risk of developing it, including the following:

Brain tumor
  • A damage to the brain or a tumor
  • Difficulties in the way the brain develops prior to birth
  • Brain blood vessels that are aberrant
  • Cerebral hemorrhage
  • Meningitis, encephalitis, or any other sort of brain infection

Epilepsy is not communicable (it cannot be contracted from someone with it). Epilepsy can run in families, but just because one’s mother, father, brother, or sister has it does not mean they will.

Certain factors can occasionally cause seizures in persons who have epilepsy. They include the following:
  • Strobe or bright lights
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Stress
  • Excessive stimulation (like staring at a computer screen or playing video games for too long)
  • Fever
  • Suffocation (breathing too fast or too deeply)
Playing vid games

Epilepsy Diagnosis

Neurologists are physicians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of nervous system disorders. Inform your doctor if you believe you may have had a seizure. They would almost certainly refer you to a neurologist, who will examine you for epilepsy or other neurological problems.

The neurologist will perform an examination and will inquire about your symptoms, your past health, and the health of your family. This section is referred to as the medical history. Describe the seizure (or seizures) as accurately as possible. Identifying the type of seizure a person is experiencing assists doctors in determining the best course of treatment.

The neurologist may order medical tests such as an EEG to determine the electrical activity of the brain. Additionally, brain scans such as a CT scan or an MRI may be performed. All of these examinations are painless.

How Can Epilepsy Be Treated?

Typically, doctors treat epilepsy with medications. If medication does not manage the seizures, doctors may offer a special diet called the ketogenic or keto diet. This stringent high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet has been shown to reduce seizure frequency in some cases.

Doctors may recommend vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) with a device that stimulates the vagus nerve for difficult-to-control seizures. This nerve travels up the neck’s sides and into the brain. The VNS transmits electrical signals to the nerve, which then transmits them to the brain. This assists in preventing or shortening the duration of seizures.

Occasionally, doctors will do surgery if other treatments fail to manage the seizures.

How To Help Someone With A Seizure?

To assist someone experiencing a seizure:

Epilepsy girl
  • Maintain your composure.
  • Assist, but do not coerce, the individual to lie on their side, ideally on a level, comfortable surface.
  • Remove the individual’s glasses or rucksack and remove any clothes that is too tight around the neck.
  • Do not restrain or hold the individual.
  • Remove things, particularly those that are sharp or hard, from the person.
  • Maintain contact with the individual or arrange for another friend or trustworthy person to do so.
  • Ascertain that your companion is breathing normally.
  • During a seizure, avoid putting anything into the person’s mouth. They will not swallow their tongues, and attempting to open their mouths may result in damage.
  • After the seizure has passed, speak with the individual in a calm, comforting tone. If possible, inform them about the events leading up to, during, and following the seizure.
  • Generally, if the person having a seizure is recognized to have epilepsy, there is no need to call 911. However, contact 911 if the individual is wounded, has breathing difficulties, appears blue around the lips, has another medical condition such as diabetes, or has a prolonged seizure (greater than 5 minutes) or repeated seizures

What Else Do I Need to Know?

Epilepsy patients may and do lead regular lives. If you have epilepsy, you can still participate in normal activities, go on dates, and work. Your doctor will discuss the importance of being cautious in certain scenarios. For instance, you can love swimming but should always swim in groups to ensure your safety. If your epilepsy is well-controlled medically, you will be able to drive.

Inform those in your immediate circle — friends, relatives, teachers, and coaches — about your epilepsy and what to do if you have a seizure while they are around.